Policing Itself

The New York Daily News has published a sensational piece alleging police are directing the homeless and criminal elements to Liberty Park. It editorializes, “[t]he Wall Street protesters determined to ‘Occupy Everything’ now find themselves, in a sense, occupied.”

While the publication has a history of biased reporting against the movement, its claims have been echoed by at least one unnamed occupier, according to Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones Magazine.

Harkinson later reported that a spokesperson from NYC Dept of Homeless Services denied allegations that the NYPD was directing homeless persons to Zuccotti. In fact, the spokesperson said, they were conducting outreach at the park, encouraging people in need to “accept temporary housing.” As far as the criminal element is concerned, Sharman Stein of the Department of Corrections told Harkinson that inmates released in Manhattan are routinely dropped off at Canal and Center streets, which is about a twenty minute walk from Zuccotti.

Justin Elliott, posting on Salon.com, said:

Asked about the Daily News report, an NYPD spokesperson responded with a two-word email: “It’s false.”

Whether the specific claims made by the New York Daily News are true or not, the story finally made public questions that myself, other occupiers and the public have had about security at Zuccotti and the overall willingness and ability of Occupy Wall Street to ‘police itself’. I believe it is necessary to take security measures both to protect the freedoms and safety of occupiers and to preserve the integrity of the movement. Last night, via Twitter, I had several enlightening conversations about possible solutions to the problem.

My overall view:

  • If someone does not accept the legitimacy of a group, they will not comply with its rules. OWS knows this better than anyone. There are likely other people at Zuccotti who have no desire to participate in the GA, marches, or other actions. It is a good place to blend in and, frankly, freeload. Zuccotti has no borders (and it should not) and is not an exclusive club, so we have no ability or justification to prevent anyone from entering the park. This unfortunately may include criminals (petty or otherwise), or people who generally want to disrupt things for the sake of it or because of an agenda. They may be provocateurs, those who do not think OWS is radical enough (ie they may not be committed to nonviolence), or people who just want to cause trouble.
  • Engaging the police is to our benefit. First, they may be more likely to deal with you gently or even be more supportive of Occupy. Second, how can we expect their help with issues if we are calling them ‘pigs’ and treating them with hostility? One of the first things we chanted on Wall Street marches was “cops are the 99%”. We have seen the positive outcomes of engagement in Albany, where police refused to arrest protesters. @korgasm_ and I always made a point to reach out to the police, offer them food and water (they can’t accept in uniform but they appreciate it) and I believe it helped. One morning while I was still asleep, @kennethlipp came back to our site from the media tent and took my cellphone back up there to charge it. The nearby officers actually came over and asked me if I knew him (to try to determine if he had stolen my phone).
  • OWS has to be responsible for itself. Just as the sanitation committee has mostly solved cleaning issues, the security committee and ALL responsible occupiers have to be responsible for policing OWS’s self-designated home. One suggestion is to ‘name and shame’ people-I certainly wish we had done a mic check and outed the kid who tried to steal (pardon, ‘salvage’) Kenneth’s computer. He made us uncomfortable the rest of the time we were there, and who knows what he may have done to others. Just as occupiers made signs saying “he doesn’t represent us” to follow the man with the anti-semitic sign, occupiers who witness violent or criminal acts should speak out. Maybe consider having responsible police liaisons report severe acts to a trusted officer. Maybe appoint and train a rotating committee of trusted occupiers to a mediation council to solve personal or low-level disputes.
  • Finally, address issues openly and with transparency. This will preserve Occupy’s integrity. There are already so many elements against us and they have and will continue to speak about these issues in an attempt to discredit us. Beat them to the punch. Universities do periodic crime reports (by semester or annually). Consider putting out a bulletin listing incidents and, more importantly, how they were addressed by the community.
There are many places and groups from which we can solicit advice on this problem. One suggestion, by @KNDEA, is to contact Native American nations about tribal process. This would both guide OWS and be great outreach to some of the most marginalized people in the 99%. OWS has the fortune of being near the Shinnecock Indian Nation, located on Long Island, and nine other nations:
Another possibility is any number of the self-sustainable communes and communities that exist in this country.

Finally, the homeless should not be viewed as a problem. Sephir0t:

[I] discovered persons who simply felt that society didn’t want them. or maybe they didn’t have enough control

over their circumstances … so they dropped out, and/or turned to crime. but they *felt* they had been pushed out.

that’s my tentative 1st suggestion: give these ppl something to do, some kind of responsibility, in your society.

I’m not suggesting anyone has this mindset, but how disgusting would it be if people fighting for a better society were to think of themselves as doing the homeless a ‘favor’ by ‘allowing’ them to share food and supplies with OWS. If we think we are better than the current institutions, we should be conducting outreach to those who do not have the luxury of choosing to live in parks.

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